THE LAST KNOCK presents: 2016’s Best Horror Films

The Last Knock

2016 was a pretty damn good year for horror – the movie variety, of course – and we’re happy to take a look at all those films that made the genre great. In fact, we’ll give you a reverse order countdown to the very best after we look at honorable mentions. Sure, we can wail about neon-colored witches hiding in rundown bars or something, but we won’t.

Is your favorite on the list?

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@RealJillyG @ThisIsHorror @dixiefairy @awholelottabern @KissedByFate2 @Tammysdragonfly @DarkCorners3 @LianeMoonRaven @aus_warrior @actorMartinez @DeadExitComic @GreyaABC @Brooklyn99FOX @CSINY_CBS @GrindhouseDave @d_m_elms @smburkett @DFITWmovie @RomanJossart @jessicaalba @ThomasJane @ponysmasher @LightsOutMovie @maria_bello @teresapalmer @jenamalone @10CloverfieldLn @TheWitchMovie @anyataylorjoy @NicolasWR @canevrenol @SouthboundMovie @mariaolsen66 @sunchokefilm @SarahHagan4Real @BenCresciman @barbaracrampton @mickeykeating @laurenashleycar @saulnier_jeremy @GreenRoomMovie @GreenRoomFilm @SirPatStew @MaconBlair @BlueRuinMovie @murderpartyfilm

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments, Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay…

In My Skin by Bill Meeker

In a previous post, I wrote about Ozon’s See the Sea as an example of the cinéma du corps of the early New French Extremity. By contrast, a later film of this movement, In My Skin (Dans ma peau, 2002), is both more transgressive and more preoccupied with formal considerations. Written and directed by Marina de Van (who plays Tatiana in Ozon’s film), it focuses on the character of Esther (de Van), an ambitious young female professional whose psyche unravels after she receives a disfiguring wound in an accident at a work-related house party.

Wandering alone in the backyard of the recently renovated house, she trips over some building supplies and falls, tearing her pant leg. At first, unaware that she has injured herself, she returns to the house, where she gossips with her friend and co-worker Sandrine (Lea Drucker). It is not until she goes to the bathroom that she realizes that she has a bloody gash in her right lower leg. Even so, she leaves the party to go out for drinks with friends. Later that night, she goes to a hospital, where the on-call intern (Adrian de Van) asks her why she did not seek medical help after she realized that she had hurt herself. She replies that she did not feel any pain until much later. The intern then jokingly asks her, “Are you sure it’s your leg?”

Although she has everything that a young bourgeois Parisian woman could want, including a challenging career in business and a young, urban, professional boyfriend, Vincent (Laurent Lucas), a morbid fascination with her disfigured leg begins to distract her from work and other people. Soon she starts having spells in which she engages in destructive acts of self-mutilation. She begins with cutting the surgical sutures in her leg wound. For the spectator, the scenes in which Esther harms herself are difficult to watch. Her cutting and gouging moves from her leg to an arm, then to her entire body, including her face. Although Esther continues to try to pursue her career ambitions (snubbing Sandrine in the process) and her relationship with Vincent (who becomes increasingly upset by her bizarre behavior), the urge towards self-destruction becomes irresistible. Every social challenge in her life triggers an urge to engage in self-mutilation. The urge to hurt herself quickly takes over her life, interfering with both love and work and ultimately leading her to a paroxysm of self-harm while alone in a cheap hotel room.

Before her accident, Esther’s bourgeois existence hardens her to sensation and emotion, as shown by her initial inability to feel the pain of her leg wound. Bound within the structure of the Lacanian Symbolic, she has repressed her emotions (coded by patriarchy as feminine) so that she can have a chance at success in the “man’s world” of business. Thus, she creates a hard, protective, psychological shell comprised of ego defense mechanisms with which she insulates herself from authentic interpersonal relationships and their potential for emotional response. After the accident, the disintegration of this shell leads to the gradual fragmentation of her ego, as demonstrated by her decreasing ability to function in the world of the Symbolic. This event, with its irruption of the abject in the form of a bloody gash in Esther’s skin, stands for an intrusion of the Lacanian Real into her conscious life. Per Wright and Wright:

The Real is that which is both inside and outside the subject, resisting the Symbolic’s endeavours to contain it. In the imaginary mirror-play of illusion a consistency obtains which leaves no gaps for the Real to manifest itself. The Real shows only in the structured effects it produces in mundane reality, and has no existence from the perspective of the symbolic system, the big Other. The fantasy of the Lacanian objet a conceals the gap, itself proof of the Real that lies outside the illusion of consistency. (3)

Esther’s objet a is the knife, which generalizes to any tool with which she can cut herself. For Žižek, the objet a is the “sublime object of ideology”:

…at its simplest, it is that which we most ardently desire, imagining it to be in the possession of the Other. This object, beyond all else, is what is unconsciously believed will fill the void at the core of being. The void is the effect of the constitution of the subject in language out of the Real of the body with all its undirected drives, which language vainly tries to bring entirely within its laws. (3)

Esther’s original injury exposes the void within herself, namely the lack of fulfillment of her basic drives caused by repression of her capacity to feel in the service of trying to succeed in the Parisian bourgeois environment by conforming to its patriarchal capitalistic standards. Thus, each subsequent appearance of a knife-like object (her objet a) in the narrative leads Esther to engage in further physical self-harm in a bizarre attempt to reach the Real within her body (“in her skin”). Unfortunately, the lack she desperately desires to fill “arises from the ultimate incompatibility of the Symbolic and the Real” (5). Thus, the ultimate mental result of Esther’s self-mutilatory behaviors is psychosis.

De Van presents this psychological break in a scene in which Esther attends a high-stakes business dinner. Despite her efforts to impress a high-profile, female client who has accompanied the (male) senior partner in her firm, she cannot resist focusing on her dinner companions’ plates when they carve meat with their forks and knives. She has a delusional experience in which she believes that her left arm, from which she can feel no sensations, has taken on an independent existence. Eventually, she hallucinates this arm as amputated and lying on the table in full view of her business associates, who do not notice it.

She retrieves the arm, reattaches it to her body, then begins cutting it under the table with her steak knife. Her ability to participate in the Symbolic discourse of business rapidly deteriorates, creating an atmosphere of social awkwardness at the table. She decamps in a panic to the restaurant’s wine cellar, where she hides behind racks of wine bottles in a regressed state. There, she realizes the effects of her behavior on the world of the Symbolic when a wine steward discovers her bloody knife on the floor. Shocked out of her psychotic state, she returns to the dinner party, which has concluded. The senior partner is clearly furious with her.

In the closing sequence of In My Skin, de Van (as both writer-director and actress) signifies the “collapse of ideology” with the image of Esther’s complete mental breakdown and physical self-destruction under the stress of her pursuit of bourgeois socioeconomic values. Thanatos, the Freudian death drive, overcomes Eros, the life drive, through an overwhelming return of the repressed – in this case, all the emotions against which Esther had been so heavily defended (and which for Lacan represent the jouissance that is “prohibited in language” [Žižek, Wright, & Wright 12]) in her single-minded pursuit of a bourgeois lifestyle. Although this final sequence is open to interpretation, it appears to imply that her morbid obsession has caused her death.

In its cinematography, this sequence is also emblematic of the “high art” formal aesthetic within which de Van deploys her “low art” narrative. It begins with Esther awakening the morning in her cheap hotel room. After dressing, she admires a piece of her skin that she has tanned by treating with chemicals (on the advice of a bewildered pharmacist in a previous scene). It has hardened, shriveled and turned black. With a mixture of sadness and affection, she places it inside her bra and leaves the room. But then a subsequent shot, which begins with an extreme close-up of Esther’s face as she stares vacantly into the camera, tracks out to reveal that she is lying motionless on the bed. This shot repeats once before fading to black. In My Skin’s high-art cinematography is also evident in the use of a split screen in the sequence that depicts Esther’s final paroxysm of self-harm in a series of disorientingly paired close-ups. The use of this technique is foreshadowed by using this technique in the film’s opening credits, over which are shown a series of establishing shots as pairs of positive and negative color images.

The film’s avant-garde form also appears in the its sound design and musical score. The spectator is cued to the onset of Esther’s episodes of self-mutilation, triggered the appearance of her objet a, by extradiegetic sounds of heavy breathing and a shift to dissonance in the musical score. Žižek uses Chion’s concept of rendu to explain how such sounds can be “a way of representing reality distinct from the Imaginary and the Symbolic modes”.  Such a representation is achieved “typically through the sound-track, which now takes over as dominant indicator of the narrative reality, while the visual images become a secondary montage”. Thus, this inversion of sound and vision, an “arbitrary stylistic prohibition” on the part of the filmmaker, signifies a psychosis by “making uncannily palpable the tension between Real and Symbolic” (Žižek, Wright, & Wright 13).

Arthouse sound and visuals of an increasingly avant-garde nature, transgressive narratives with increasingly “extreme features: these changing characteristics show the rapid development of the cinéma du corps over the turn of the millennium. This movement would later spread to greater Europe and beyond, producing many more movies that test the spectator’s ability to tolerate the grotesque and abject while delighting the lover of innovation in filmmaking technique.

Works Cited

In My Skin (Dans Ma Peau). Dir. Marina De Van. Perf. Marina De Van and Laurent Lucas. Wellspring Media, 2003. DVD.

Wright, Elizabeth, and Edmond Wright. “Introduction.” The Žižek Reader. By Slavoj Žižek. Ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. 1-8. Print.

Žižek, Slavoj, Elizabeth Wright, and Edmond Wright. “The Undergrowth of Enjoyment: How Popular Culture Can Serve as an Introduction to Lacan.” The Žižek Reader. Ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. 11-36. Print.

(Photo of In My Skin writer, director, and star, Marina de Van from Blumhouse.)

Crash Palace Support Team

The man behind Loud Green Bird (LGB), “a website devoted to cinema and literature. LGB covers all genres but has a predilection for horror and science fiction. LGB also supports indie film by reviewing the work of indie filmmakers,” Bill Meeker teaches by day, and is a film television critical/cultural studies graduate student. Besides following LGB on Twitter, you can also find more of this driven cinephile at Frisco Kid TX and on Twitter.

 

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Milestone: The Blair Witch Project

The Last Knock

Many dark moons ago, in 1999, a phenomenal word-of-mouth campaign brought moviegoers to the theatre to indulge in The Blair Witch Project. We take a look at the original film’s success, the subsequent sequel, and the latest movie many seemed to think was a remake. We’ll also see where the filmmakers and stars of the original are today, and how the first film changed independent filmmaking, and made found footage a legitimate horror sub-genre.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@inthenightdoc @isaacrthorne @MelanieMcCurdie @Tammysdragonfly @RonGizmo @RealJillyG @THENAMNATION @BleedingCritic @LianeMoonRaven @VicsMovieDen @PromoteHorror @AnnThraxx @Scream_Factory @AmandaBergloff @SiaraTyr @machinemeannow @Israel_Finn @DrewFromTV @GTGMcast @CrypticPictures @Sanchezonthemic @joshualeonard1 @sundancefest @deepfocusllc @corybrin @RSBrzoska @d_m_elms

THE LAST KNOCK presents: The Neon Demon and The Wailing

The Last KnockThe Neon Demon and The Wailing, two of 2016’s most talked about horror films, would make for one bizarre double feature. Nicolas Winding Refn delivers an odd, off-kilter tale of modeling, jealousy, and abuse, while Hong-jin Na brings audiences an epic mystery. But do they work and will horror fans embrace them?

We take an in depth look at both works, from story to plot, and from music to cinematography. Join us – because we’re falling apart…

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@UKHorrorScene @NicolasWR @SamesCarolyn @Barry_Cinematic @d_m_elms @isaacrthorne @MelanieMcurdie @jerryWalach @AnnThraxx @TyroneCousin @Tammysdragonfly @RiverCityOtter @WritingReader @GuyRicketts @KeyzKeyzworth @IvonnaCadaver @AndyDeen666

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 1) by Paul J. Williams

saw1

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And I’m not a movie historian or expert, just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: Why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

If you’ve read my three-part article on horror cinema of the 1990’s, then you’ll remember that I argued the ‘90s was a good decade for movies in general, but the worst for the genre of horror. This time, I’m here to tell you the opposite: I submit that the 2000s were one of the best decades for films and probably the best for horror.

Okay, okay, I hear you: What about the Universal Pictures’ movies of the ‘30s? What about the slasher craze of the ‘70s that lead to the boom of the ‘80s? Great decades, no doubt, but I think the ‘00s have them beat.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE EARLY 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

While the world of the ‘90s seemed to be split in two: the first half being not so great and the second half being pretty good, the 2000s seemed to be punctuated with moderate peaks and very low valleys.

The decade starts with one of the worst events in American history: September 11, 2001. If you’re of a certain age, your life is probably divided between pivotal, oftentimes tragic events in your life (e.g.: before and after a close family member dies unexpectedly, etc.). For Americans, and perhaps for other parts of the world, our pre-9/11 and post-9/11 lives are added to that list.

The requisite War of Terror followed, but soon devolved into the quagmire that became the Iraq War.

In 2002, as if to snap the American public back into normalcy, the Washington D.C.-area sniper was on the loose, scaring the hell out of folks just like the Son of Sam and Zodiac Killer of yore.

In 2004, a devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed hundreds of thousands, becoming one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

The one common denominator in all this: Almost everything was caught on video for the world to see, sometimes playing out in real time. More on this later.

So, that was the bad; let’s get to the good…

EARLY 2000s HORROR: Crawling Before We Run

1999 gave us two of the best horror movies of that decade, so we had every right to think that we were heading into better times for the genre, but maybe not as fast as we thought.

The modern “found-footage” phenomenon was kicked off with The Blair Witch Project, but it would take years for another recognizable film of this subgenre to emerge, and more than a half-decade before the found-footage franchises found audiences (more on that subject later).

Night Shamalyan’s, The Sixth Sense, reinvigorated the ghost story and psychological horror subgenres, but it’s not until 2001 until we get another good one with Nicole Kidman in The Others, an effective haunted house story that I feel would have been even more successful if it wasn’t a victim of poor timing as audiences had already seen the very similar ending in the aforementioned Sixth Sense. I’m not sure when the script for Others was written or when the project went into development, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the story and screenplay had been around for years, maybe even before Sixth Sense, but alas, that movie was released first, stealing some of The Others’ thunder.

THE RING

Somewhat paradoxically, I feel the first horror movie to really get the 21st century going is The Ring, the 2002 remake of Japan’s J-Horror Ringu from 1998. I say “paradoxically” because the plot-points of this movie are based on technology that seemed primitive only a few years later, but the film still holds up overall after more than a decade later. The movie was well-received by critics and was a huge hit at the box-office, launching a stream of Japanese horror remakes to varying degrees of success. Naomi Watts returned in 2005 for the obligatory sequel, The Ring Two (which is just awful), but she won’t be back for the third film, RINGS, tentatively set for a 2017 release after many delays (not an optimistic sign, unfortunately).

THE ASIAN INVASION

Remakes seemed omnipresent in the 2000s (for better or worse, but more for worse, and more on that later), but as previously stated, the success of The Ring caught Hollywood’s attention and made them research what horror-movies that Asia, particularly Japan, had for them to acquire the rights to. Most of what followed was lackluster at best: Dark Water in 2005 was panned, despite its stellar cast; Pulse, even with Wes Craven penning the screenplay, floundered in 2006; One Missed Call became one of 2008’s most worst reviewed movies; and Shutter remade the exceptional 2003 Thai horror in 2008, but couldn’t capture the same magic.

The outlier in all these films is 2004’s creepy The Grudge, a financially successful remake of Japan’s Ju-On: The Grudge. After banking almost $200 million dollars worldwide, two sequels were to follow in 2006 and 2009, and you guessed it, they aren’t as good.

SAW

2004’s seminal movie, Saw, written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, is perhaps responsible for a couple things: re-starting franchise films like we saw in the 1980s, and being part (although a small one) of the start of a new subgenre: torture porn.

In case you’ve lived on Mars for the past thirteen years, Saw tells the story of the Jigsaw Killer, who compels his kidnapped victims to make terrible choices, but are given a chance to live if the “right” choice is made, ultimately teaching them lessons on taking life for granted. What would you do?

Saw mixed creepy visuals with blood and gore, and concludes with a surprising, though fairly implausible ending. It’s a real “fun” ride.

Though, unsurprisingly, it received mixed reviews, Saw was a hit with audiences, grossing over $100 million dollars at the box office and spawning seven sequels over the next thirteen years.

Both Whannell and Wan, especially Wan, capitalized on the success of Saw, and both have established themselves as leaders in the horror genre ever since.

ZOMBIES RETURN FROM THE DEAD

28 Days Later, written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle, became a surprise hit in 2002, both with critics and movie-goers, eventually grossing over $85 million dollars on an $8 million dollar budget. The British film put a new twist on an old tenet of how zombies hunt you down. No more would they lumber around. They now had the speed of Usain Bolt, and it works perfectly. Essentially a road-trip movie, our crew of protagonists are en route to a destination they think will be safe, only to find out that the living are worse than the dead. We’ve come to find out over the years, the film actually has several alternate endings, which I’m pretty sure you can check out on later DVD releases, or on YouTube.

What 28 Days Later launched was a seemingly unrelenting stream of zombie movies, the more notable being:

2004’s horror/comedy Shaun of the Dead with Simon Pegg.

Zach Snyder’s directorial debut with the 2004 remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

2006’s Canadian horror/comedy Fido.

Will Smith starred in 2007’s I Am Legend, which somehow has bad C.G.I. and should have kept its original ending.

2007’s Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez’s entry in the double-feature with Quentin Tarantino.

George Romero returned in 2007 with his found-footage zombie film, Diary of the Dead.

2008’s Pontypool, while not a personal favorite, has definitely developed a bit of a cult following over the years, so I can’t deny its impact.

2008’s controversial Deadgirl (not to be confused with 2006’s The Dead Girl, the depressing Brittany Murphy crime-drama).

2009’s crazy French film, La Horde.

2009 gave us Zombieland, a funny and poignant horror/comedy with the exceptional Woody Harrelson, and probably the zombie/post-apocalyptic movie that uses the ubiquitous “rules to survive” plot-points the best way.

NEW FRENCH EXTREMISM

In the early 2000s, while France was being derided for its anti-democratic pacifism and chided by such clever jokes as “Freedom Fries” (get it?), film-makers from or affiliated with the country turned out some of the most transgressive movies in cinema history. Here’s a sampling:

Trouble Every Day is a 2001 Vincent Gallo marathon of eroticism and blood that has become more recognized fifteen years later.

Irreversible, though perhaps not technically in the horror genre, is a 2002 Gasper Noe film that unfolds in reverse chronological order. Despite not being labeled a horror, the movie has some of the most horrific, hard to watch scenes ever shown, the most infamous being the nine-minute, uncut rape scene of Monica Bellucci’s character. Controversial immediately upon release, Noe has defended the movie against criticism of homophobia ever since.

Haute Tension, a gory slasher movie from 2003, became infamous for the scenes they had to cut for an R rating, a twist ending that defies logic, many title changes, a version with odd voice dubbing, and, ultimately, a plot a little too similar to Dean Koontz’s Intensity. Despite this, the movie received as many good reviews as bad, and tripled its budget with almost $7 million dollars in box office sales.

Ils (Them) is a 2006 home invasion horror with a simple set-up: A young husband and wife are alone in a huge house located in a remote area, and evil’s come-a-callin’. It’s a pretty cool reveal when that evil is identified at the end. (The home invasion subgenre will be discussed further later on.)

Frontieres, with themes as relevant in late 2016 U.S.A. as they were when this was released in 2007 France, so let’s hope this gore-fest from writer/director Xavier Gens isn’t prophetic.

Inside, a 2007 home invasion horror that transcends that subgenre, is equal parts scary as it is bloody…and I mean bloody. The surprise ending works perfect and makes sense out of the carnage and antagonist’s motivation. It’s a great entry to this list.

Martyrs, last on the list, but definitely not least, is a 2008 movie from Pascal Laugier. Where to start with this movie? There’s just nothing like it. Divisive, to say the least, you can categorize this gory film as torture-porn, but it’s so much more than that. You’ll go through so many different emotions during its 94 minutes. Oh, it’s home invasion? Who’s the bad guy? Wait, it’s torture-porn? What’s the point of all this? Oh, there’s a point, my friend. Wait for the ending you’ll never forget that makes sense out of everything you just watched. I obviously can’t do this movie the justice it deserves; please, just watch it.

NEIL MARSHALL

England’s Neil Marshall brought us two of my favorite horror movies of the early 2000s, one many have seen and one many might not have: The Descent and Dog Soldiers.

With the werewolf subgenre being a personal favorite, Neil Marshall’s 2002 Dog Soldiers is a great addition to this catalogue. We set out to the Scottish Highlands with a squad of British soldiers on a training mission who become hunted by werewolves. Even though a plot-twist or two can be seen coming, the movie perfectly mixes action, horror, and gallows humor, all on a low budget. It’s very well done.

The Descent from 2005 is a superior monster movie, telling the tale of a group of women who set out spelunking in the Appalachian Mountains. One of the ladies suffered a tragedy a year earlier – a gory car accident we witness in the prologue where her husband and daughter are killed, and this trip is supposed to be cathartic and strengthen the bond of friendship between the women. Way before any creatures become apparent, the danger and claustrophobia of their adventure is horror enough. Once the monstrous cave-crawlers appear, the movie really takes off, with the most notable scare coming from a camera’s night-vision function. The film was a hit with critics and audiences, eventually earning almost $60 million dollars, which was fourteen times its budget. A 2009 sequel was released with Marshall serving only as Executive Producer, but the movie couldn’t capture the magic the first film did. How could it have…

As for Neil Marshall himself, he hasn’t written or directed any original material recently, but has gone on to have a successful Hollywood career, directing episodes for Game of Thrones, Hannibal, and Westward.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

I would be remiss to not mention the following films that bettered the horror genre in the early 2000s:

American Psycho is a 2000 slasher/serial killer movie adapted from the novel of the same name by Brett Easton Ellis and, ironically, written and directed by two women: Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner. Starring Christian Bale before his stardom, the film tells a tale of misogyny and excess in the backdrop of 1980’s Manhattan, with Patrick Bateman, a wealthy investment banker, who moonlights as a serial killer…or does he???

Ginger Snaps, a 2000 Canadian werewolf story of two teenage sisters. Though you’re run over like a truck by its themes, the movie tells a poignant coming-of-age story and the bonds of siblings.

Final Destination, in 2000, started a supernatural gore-fest that would eventually lead to five films in the franchise. Perhaps trying to capitalize on the late-90’s teen slasher craze, our young protagonists try to escape Death, but of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if they all did.

Jeepers Creepers, in 2001, also capitalized on the late-90’s teenage slasher film, this time telling the story of a brother and sister who set-off on a road trip during the worst time imaginable and end up stalked by a demonic creature. Grossed $60 million dollars on a $10 million dollar budget.

Session 9, 2001’s psychological horror, which pops up on almost every “Best of 2000s” list, went unseen by yours truly and a lot of other folks when it was first released, but has since become a cult classic in the genre. Directed by Brad Anderson, who would go on to have a Hollywood career of ups and downs.

May, written and directed by Lucky McKee in 2002, while well-received critically at the time, has developed a big cult following ever since. With obvious parallels to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Angela Bettis plays the titular character, who many audience members identify with.

That gets us warmed up, so stay tuned for Part 2 of 2000s Horror, where real fun begins…

(Photo of Saw‘s Cary Elwes from Netflix Life.)

Crash Palace Support Team

12496273_131479987232834_5948852029879239438_o

Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Sad Clowns

The Last KnockWe’re talking about those horror films that take the image of the happy go lucky clown and turn it into something terrifying – unless you suffer from coulrophobia, which is the fear of clowns. So consider your fear exploited! We take a look at Stitches, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Drive Thru, The Last Circus, and the recent film, Clown.

Regardless of your fears, this show is dedicated to the Clown Prince of Horror: the amazing Bleeding Critic! He will take your breath away – and never give it back! Check out his excellent interactive website!

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@BleedingCritic @dixiefairy @d_m_elms @RealJillyG @AmandaBergloff @Twitter @Annie_Acorn @LianeMoonRaven @machinemeannow @ThisIsHorror @RonGizmo @CrypticPictures @DavidWilde49 @OklahomaWard @nicolemalonso @DinoBarlaam @ReadingFilmFEST @DTReading @svbell @realrossnoble @alexdelaIglesia @GrantmanC @SJCHIODO @MichaelKeaton @Billskarsgard_ @StephenKing @JohnLeguizamo

 

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Cat LaCohie

The Last KnockCat LaCohie (aka Vixen DeVille) is not just a horror actress, she’s a model, confidence builder, life enhancer, soul influencer, and a burlesque dancer – to name but a few of her many intrinsic talents. Direct from London and currently residing in Los Angeles, Cat’s devoted to helping men and women of all ages and sizes feel fabulous, beautiful, confident, and happy – dammit. We discuss everything from acting and horror, to burlesque and feeling fantastic, and more, of course. Enjoy!

Visit this extraordinary woman at her Cat LaCohie site, her Vixen DeVille site, and don’t forget her phenomenal Burlesque, Body Confidence, and Self-Imagery Discovery Experience – its value cannot be measured.

10612886_453131564828805_5624182937994097637_n

(Photo via Cat LaCohie.)

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) – An Appreciation by Jonny Numb

halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-images-8b7263d5-41d2-4298-bfb5-9dc7114b896 HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

[98 minutes. R. Director: Tommy Lee Wallace]

In the featurette on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, producer Irwin Yablans, going to bat for the late Moustapha Akkad, takes swing after swing at the creative team, insisting that the removal of burgeoning slasher icon Michael Myers from the series was “a bad idea,” and that he had little involvement with the film outside of “collecting a check.” This not only typifies the cynical stereotype of a film producer, but is an intriguing echo of Akkad’s own cash-grab mentality for the series, which reared its head something bigger and uglier as it continued miserably through the ‘80s and ‘90s. The franchise was never really about Michael Myers: it was about guys like Yablans and Akkad docking another yacht at the pier.

My own history with Season of the Witch – and the Halloween series overall – is odd. For the most part, I prefer the lesser-liked entries as opposed to the canonized fan favorites (I think John Carpenter’s 1978 original is, like The Shining, one of the most overrated horror films of all time). The irony is, I grew up disliking III for the reason Yablans stated – a Halloween film without Myers? That’s like a Reese’s without peanut butter – what’s the point?

But there was something to it all the same. Along with my lukewarm perception of some of the other series entries, I found myself returning to III time and again over the years.

Now I think I know why: rejected initially for its refusal to conform to what the series had established up to that point (the Michael-Loomis-Laurie triangle) – along with a title and marketing campaign that confused potential ticket-buyers – the film failed at the box office. In the ensuing years, as the producers returned to the Michael mythos (following them down the dire “Thorn” rabbit-hole), the original icon proved the law of diminishing returns with some truly abysmal outings.

This, I think, is when the attitude toward III began to change. I know several horror fans who consider it the best of the series because it ditches Michael (outside of his briefly-glimpsed movie-within-a-movie image on TV monitors), and I can imagine those – like myself – who were harsh on it before, noticing new wrinkles in its actually-very-good quality as the Michael slasher antics became indistinguishable from the imitators he spawned.

So, in a way, the producers’ insistence on driving the Myers story into the ground probably worked to III’s ultimate advantage.

While the film didn’t necessarily launch rugged tough-guy actor Tom Atkins into the stratosphere, it did establish his signature character: confident yet not macho; a deadbeat dad, yet not a bad guy; an Average Joe who still wants to do the right thing – not only for his fellow human, but for the world at large. He’s the type of doctor who goes about work with half his shirt unbuttoned, and casts a spell of desire over women almost half his age! He’s the type of blue-collar hero who does his best thinking with a six-pack of Miller or a bottle of bourbon. As typical as it sounds, we want him to save the world and get the girl at the end.

III’s reduced focus on horror is something that also may have soured word of mouth for those who actually did venture out to see it during its theatrical run. Most genre hybrids at that time (like, say, Alien) seamlessly interweaved elements of sci-fi and horror, while the semi-comedic likes of Night of the Creeps were still several years away (you could cite 1981’s Student Bodies, but that was another film that didn’t attain cult status until years later). III integrates everything from Noir (silhouetted characters, smoky bars, rain-streaked windows, seedy motel rooms) to science fiction (Atkins’ “Stop it!” plea at the end is an effective riff on “You’re next!” from Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to horror (the film takes place in the isolated town of Santa Mira, rich with banal, Lovecraft-styled menace).

Like many latter-day remakes and homages, III shares more in common with its predecessors than most of its detractors would probably like to admit: Carpenter’s Halloween is alluded to early on as “the immortal classic” and serves as the preamble to the televised “giveaway” that frames the final minutes; ditto the extensive use of over-the-shoulder shots and silhouettes of stoic characters glaring on. In a nod to Halloween II, some early action takes place in a hospital, wherein an assassin (stuntman Dick Warlock), after stalking the halls Michael Myers-style, kills a catatonic old man before proceeding to incinerate himself in the parking lot (remember when Myers went on a hospital rampage before meeting a similarly fiery “end”?).

The elements of mystery are well-integrated, and in telling a different kind of story, writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace (the It television miniseries) avoids a lot of the pitfalls that marred Carpenter’s film. What I found frustrating about the original Halloween (and something that was corrected rather well in the 1981 sequel) was the way it telegraphed its scary moments well in advance – whether by triggering an intrusive musical cue or making the viewer privy to information other characters were not.

III, on the other hand, leaves the audience to speculate on what might be happening in Santa Mira, where the lone industry is Silver Shamrock, a novelty company that manufactures Halloween masks. We pick up on information only as the characters do; thus, an atmosphere of suspense is maintained throughout – Wallace’s script may be the stuff of pulp dreams, but it’s almost brilliant in its execution. And the fact that Silver Shamrock’s founder, Conal Cochran (Robocop’s Dan O’Herlihy) ingratiatingly leaves some of Atkins’s questions unanswered upon his capture is surprisingly endearing. When revealing one of the Stonehenge stones in his factory warehouse, he laughingly states, “We had a time getting it here – you wouldn’t believe how we did it!” And honestly? That’s all we need to know.

But for those who haven’t seen it, the plot involves lifelike robots in business suits, the Celtic festival of Samhain (which, if you’ll recall, was mentioned several times in Halloween II), and a plot to kill the children of America on Halloween night.

The key supporting cast is wonderful: Stacey Nelkin plays a Nancy Drew-ish daughter pursuing the explanation for her kindly father’s murder, her performance reverberating with as much common sense as wide-eyed wonder as events unfold. O’Herlihy essays one of the most unconventional villains ever depicted on-screen; with charm to burn, he lays out his plans for world annihilation with the confidence of a Bond villain, but is never smug. If anything, his bemusement at his own fate nicely mirrors his P.T. Barnum approach to chaos. And if we want to go even further, his character is an apt corollary to Sebastian (William Sanderson) in Blade Runner (released the same year) – a lonely toymaker who relates more to automatons than people.

Granted, there are things in III that are kind of stupid: from the cheaply-affixed buttons that fall off the kids’ masks (calling into question the robots in charge of Cochran’s quality control); the way Atkins – who isn’t seen operating a computer at any point in the film – is able to easily cue up the Silver Shamrock “death feed” at the climax; and how, mere minutes before the mass murder is scheduled to occur, Atkins is able to get a national TV station on the phone and, despite his manic demeanor…well, I won’t give it away. (But seriously: in 1982, were there really only three television channels in the United States?) There’s also the “hide-behind-the-moving-mask-cart” trick that Sideshow Bob subsequently used on an episode of The Simpsons. These elements would be distracting in a lesser film, but here they add a peculiar charm.

The plot is already out there, so why not shoot for the moon – or, at the very least, Stonehenge?

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) spends his days clowning around for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and writes horrific movie reviews by night. His work can also be found at loudgreenbird.com. He judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

(Halloween III photo from Atherton.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Veteran’s Day Special: Deathdream

The Last KnockWe team up with veteran, author, and blogmaster Thomas S. Flowers of Machinemeannow for our special Veteran’s Day episode. We focus on Bob Clark’s Deathdream (aka Dead of Night), from the Alan Ormsby screenplay. Beyond the film, we discuss PTSD, combat, and what happens when one experiences the horrors of combat and comes home.

THE LAST KNOCK and Crash Palace Productions thanks veterans for their service!

The Walking Dead: Too Much, or Does Lucille Save the Day? by Kim McDonald

weekend-preview-walking-dead-negan-feature-hero-800x450When the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead was over, and for most of the next day, I walked around my house in a depressed daze. I cried. I felt nauseated. I even felt a bit disoriented. What was going to happen to our group now?

I also felt relieved. Not because I wanted Glenn and Abraham to die, or to watch Rick be completely destroyed, but because I was glad the show finally refused to take the safe way out. This was The Walking Dead I fell in love with: dangerous, and not afraid to completely shred your heart to pieces. Negan is a bad dude, but he is also a necessary evil. We need a good bad guy sometimes to shake things up. Rick may need a break from the Good Guy/Crazy Lunatic routine.

I need to explain. At the end of Season 6, I, and quite a few others, were left frustrated. Once again, after so much build up, things just ended. Everyone knew Negan was coming and things were going to end badly. What we got was a lot of driving around and cut offs just at the moment of truth. I understand the value of cliffhangers, but the show had worn the concept rather thin the past few years.

It started with the Terminus storyline in seasons 4 and 5. There was such a build up that everything was about getting to Terminus. Then they were there a day and Carol busted them out. Don’t get me wrong, Carol is a straight up badass I could watch all day. And, in a sense, I feel like I have. Carol seems to be the only one not lulled into complacency the last few seasons. Sure, she makes cookies and casseroles, but she’s also hoarding chocolate and guns and threatening small boys because she understands this isn’t a soap opera and we need to be ready for shit to go down – since something is always inches away from eating your face. We also saw her begin to buckle under the strain of always having to be the clean up crew.

I wanted to know more about Terminus. The brief flashback of who they were before becoming cannibals was interesting. The group should have hung out a bit, had lunch, then realize what exactly was in the soup. The Wolves were built up too. My point is, our group has been much more dangerous and menacing than anything they’ve recently encountered. The Glenn dumpster episode felt a bit cheap and cheesy. Deus ex machina flashed brightly in my head.

This show is better than that.

The group also seemed to land on the planet of the Red Shirts. There has been a parade of peripheral characters who don’t stick around long and get killed off quickly. We aren’t given time to invest in them so their deaths, while gruesome, don’t seem to carry as much emotional impact. Case in point: When Jessie and her sons died, I didn’t really care. Good riddance to a storyline that seemed to flounder. And her kids were annoying, so it was actually a bit of a plus watching them go. I was disappointed when the Saviors who captured Carol and Maggie were killed so quickly. We all knew they were doomed, but I actually wanted to know them. No such luck.

The season 7 premiere felt like a demarcation episode. Negan is going to change everything, and I’m excited to see how our group deals with what has happened. There are new communities and interesting characters, like Ezekiel and his tiger, Shiva. Can the group stick together, or do they scatter? Can Rick bounce back now that he’s without his brothers and trusted generals? Can Carol find her purpose again after being burned out? We don’t know. For the first time everything is unknown, and it’s great. If the show is going to last, and be relevant, it has to evolve.

The reaction on social media to this episode was not surprising. I don’t remember another episode eliciting such a strong gut-wrenching response. There has been a reaction that at first confused me. Posts and articles started popping up stating the violence in the episode went too far; accusations of torture porn were thrown around. At first, I thought it was coming from morality groups who pop up now and then, feeding off the ratings explosion of the premiere. I then realized the posts were coming from people who watched the show, who were fans, and I became even more confused.

The Walking Dead is now in its 7th season. It was never a Mary Poppins show. What exactly had these people been watching all these years? As gruesome and horrible as Glenn and Abraham’s deaths were, they weren’t unique. What about when the Governor chopped off Herschel’s head, and not in one neat swing? Or when Noah was ripped to pieces in the revolving door? Did they forget? What was it about the violence in this episode that had people saying they were walking away from the show?

It has little to do with how the characters were killed, and more to do with who was killed. Glenn was the first of the original Atlanta group to die since Andrea and Merle back in Woodberry. He was Rick’s introduction to the group. He was the heart and the light, the moral compass that always guided the group back to center even when Rick was unstable. He was the everyman character we related to – a regular guy figuring it out as he went along. His death leaves us in darkness. Abraham was the fearless soldier who rushed in, and the group is less without him. So it makes sense that people are grieving. We are a species that tells stories; the characters become real. When they die, we feel the need to lash out, to blame someone. I understand. In a way, it is a further testament to the power of the episode.

Things have to be broken down periodically, and rebuilt. With all the criticism, I’ve also heard some fans say they had lost interest but were now willing to get back into the show. Horror is about unsettling us, reminding us that life is never truly complacent. I really hope that once the shock wears off, these fans will stay for the story. Great horror keeps us coming back, despite ourselves.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

yoxpgeh5

Kim McDonald rocks out on metal near Charlotte, North Carolina, and obsesses over “weirder” foreign horror films. You can find Kim’s movie reviews at loudgreenbird.com and follow her on Twitter @dixiefairy.

(The Walking Dead photo from Screen Rant.)